Hospital District Has New 911 Emergency Protocol
By: Catherine Self, Courier staff
March 16, 2001
ŠThe Courier 2001

In the age of cellular phones, dialing for help is as easy as 1-2-3, or 9-1-1.

When making that call, however, how can people be assured that emergency questions will be answered?


In Montgomery County, new protocol followed by trained professionals is providing citizens with lifesaving information -- at their fingertips.

The Montgomery County Hospital District Communications Center is one of only seven emergency centers in North America that is using protocol designed to help people in emergency situations. They are Cypress-Fairbanks, Nashville, Tenn., Utah County, Utah, Brookville, Pa., Alberta, Canada, and Talequah, Okla.

Frank Marshall, MCHD communications manager, said the protocol, which is different from the medical protocol developed in the mid-1980s, gives critical information to help victims save themselves. That protocol is governed by the National Academy of Emergency Fire Dispatch.

"The academy has recognized the need for a similar protocol system for fire and police," Marshall said. "They put together a group of fire department professionals to develop a fire protocol system."

With the new protocol, Marshall said, if dispatchers get a call involving a small grease fire on the stove, dispatchers can give information to help extinguish the fire and prevent it from spreading into a more serious situation.

"If the fire has not spread into the cabinets and exhaust vent, the dispatcher can provide some simple pre-arrival instructions to hopefully extinguish that fire," he said.

If the fire is larger or the caller is panicked, Marshall said, dispatchers will instead tell the call to leave the home and wait for help.

Allen Johnson, EMS director, said that prior to the recent protocol, there was no information provided to emergency call takers explaining how to help people in non-medical situations, such as a small fire or someone who is stuck in a flash flood.

"We took kind of a lead role in getting this," Johnson said.

Marshall said two dispatchers from Montgomery County were part of the committee that helped design the protocol.

Marshall said MCHD is aggressive in getting up-to-date information and equipment for the safety of the county. He said the protocol is available to all call centers and will become more widespread in the future.

The protocol was released in September 2000 and MCHD received its copy in late November.

Each flip card set costs about $395. The software version of the protocol, not yet available, for all dispatch terminals will run about $26,000 with an additional $5,000 to train personnel.

According to information from the National Academy, the protocol will help the call taker determine the type of emergency and life-threatening situation. By doing that, the dispatcher can get vital information to responding units so they are prepared for a specific situation.

Although the medical protocol is available in a computer software version, Marshall said the fire protocol is only available in a flip card system.

Marshall said the academy is focused on keeping the protocol up-to-date and after a tragic drowning in Florida, the academy is working on updating information concerning water emergencies.

"The academy is very dedicated to see changes implemented," Marshall said. "They took the very unfortunate situation in Florida and have written protocol and instructions for a sinking vehicle."

On Feb. 16, 32-year-old Karla Gutierrez was traveling down the Florida Turnpike when she veered off the road and into a canal.

"She panicked and didn't know how to get out of the car," Marshall said. "But like so many people on the roadway, she had a cell phone and dialed 911."

Marshall said all dispatchers are trained to find out where the emergency is and what type of emergency it is, but unfortunately no dispatchers have the protocol or training to help in similar situations.

Gutierrez was unable to tell the call taker, who was only asking for her location, where to send help.

"Not being able to tell her where she was, the girl kept asking 'what do I do,'" Marshall said. "That call taker focused in on where she was. The call ended when the car filled up with water and the girl drowned. Help arrived, but help was too late."

Marshall said the MCHD dispatch center has three call takers trained to use the protocol.
By the end of the year when the protocol is released in a computer software form, all MCHD dispatchers will know how to use the program.

Marshall said the center is working with area fire departments to help get the computer system up and running.

"The software version is supposed to be released in November," Marshall said. "We are very anxious to get that implemented."